Kathleen Rice grew up as one of 10 siblings. Today she is the Nassau County District Attorney. Although she never participated in student government while she was in college, she said she was drawn to law because of an internship she did in college at Denis Dillon’s office, the 31-year incumbent District Attorney she went on to defeat in 2006.
Rice was just one of the speakers who addressed a crowd of more than 60 female students at Elect Her, an event aimed at closing the gap between men and women in office. Stony Brook is one of the 13 universities chosen to participate in the American Association of University Women event.
“Running for office is hard, but every single woman in this room can run for office,” Rice said. “Start at the student government level. It’s really, really, hard but you gotta do it.”
This is the third year that AAUW has held the event, but the first time that it has been held at SBU, according to Cathrine Duffy, staff liaison for the event. Duffy said that Deborah Machalow, executive vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government, was the one who pushed to get SBU to apply for the event. SBU was accepted and sponsored by the Smithtown Branch of AAUW.
In stressing the importance of women getting involved in government, Rice said they are only 17 percent of the people in Congress and 24 percent of those serving in local legislature
Rice found this “absurd and an embarrassment.”
A number of speakers drove home the point that women should participate in government, but they did not all paint a picture of the political process.
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn told female students that politics is “a nasty business, but that’s why you should be in it.”
Female leaders at the peer level also got a chance to give advice.
“Be true to yourself, that’s the best advice I can give,” Anna Lubitz, a USG senator, said.
Machalow said that a campaign is like a war.
“Say bye-bye to your social life and to sleep. Politics is dirty,” she said. She went on to add that it is important not to take a lot of the attacks that may happen during a campaign personally.
Elect Her facilitator Pamela O’Leary said that women may not be getting involved in politics because they fear the media scrutiny. But she also stressed the need for women in government office.
“Women leadership style is more corroborate … We are less corrupt,” O’Leary said. Since women are 51 percent of the population, she said, they should be better represented in office.
Machalow quoted politician Maureen Murphy when she described why women should not hold themselves back from running for office: “The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put makeup on two faces.”
“Don’t let makeup hold you back,” Machalow said.
Other tips that O’Leary gave out to students included the importance of networking. LinkedIn profiles are important to use, especially as a longer form of resume. Business cards are important to have, but O’Leary said is more important to collect business cards than give one’s own out. She stressed the importance of the “informative interview,” where the student interested in the company or position pursues an interview to find out more about it. The student would be asking the questions as opposed to a regular interview.
Another important aspect to O’Leary was communication. She enlisted the help of Marcy McGinnis, associate dean of the journalism school, to drive that point home.
One of the students in attendance, Toni DeMaio, said the most important thing she learned at the event was not a skill.
“It’s really about when one door closes, another opens and you really have to stay true to yourself,” DeMaio said.
Nelson Oliveria contributed reporting to this story.